Bersih 2.0, a coalition of over 60 NGOs, planned to hold a rally on July 9 to demand electoral reforms in Malaysia. The coalition is demanding the cleaning up of the electoral roll, reforming postal ballots, use of indelible ink, a minimum 21-day campaign period, free access to the media and the halt of corruption, etc. In response, the Malaysian government disallowed the rally and carried out arrests and intimidation against the leaders and supporters of Bersih 2.0. According to the human rights organizations in Malaysia, at least 150 persons have been arrested or summoned for investigation. Many people have been harassed and intimidated by the police for wearing Bersih 2.0 t-shirts and distributing Bersih 2.0 leaflets. Bersih 2.0 was also declared an illegal organisation by the government.
Freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of peaceful assembly are the basic rights of everyone. They are also important guarantees of the right to political participation for people to be involved in public decision making. The repressive actions of the Malaysian government have seriously violated these rights. Malaysia like Burma remains one of the last countries in Asia that refuse to sign the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
We strongly condemn the arbitrary arrest and detention of Bersih's leaders and supporters under the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance 1969 (EO), the Sedition Act, Section 122 of the Penal Code, and other laws. In particular, we are concerned over the use of preventive detention under the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance which allows for detention without trial. The EO is equally as draconian as the Internal Security Act (ISA). The EO provides the police with powers to detain a person for up to 60 days. After the initial 60-day detention period, the Home Ministry can make an order authorising further detention without trial for a period of two years. This order can be renewed indefinitely. It is a blatant denial of the rights to civil liberties and circumvents the rule of law.
We call upon the Malaysian government to immediately release all the leaders and supporters of Bersih 2.0 being arbitrarily detained for exercising their freedom of expression; stop the arrest and intimidation of the leaders and supporters of Bersih 2.0; revoke the decision to declare the Bersih 2.0 an illegal organisation; and allow Bersih 2.0 to hold the rally as planned. Instead of attempting to silence Bersih 2.0 by clamping down on their freedom of expression the Malaysian government should look into their legitimate demands.
We also urge the Malaysian government to repeal the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance 1969 and the Internal Security Act.